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"China Forever: The Shaw Brothers and Diasporic Cinema" states that "This is the first English-language book devoted to the study of a single Chinese-language film studio in a global historical context." It is far from definitive with a few gargantuan omissions. In the collection of essays it has not one chapter dedicated on either of the two most famous of the Shaw Brothers oeuvre - the Mandarin wuxia and kung fu movies. Poshek Fu missed a golden opportunity with this mistake. This book also completely ignores the exploitation cinema that included such cult hits as Black Magic, Boxer's Omen and Killer Snakes. All three of these genres were crucial in transnational sales. However for students of Hong Kong cinema and especially for interest of those in the Shaw Brothers this is still a valuable book with several excellent essays and a couple of questionable value.
When dealing with collections of short essays the quality of the whole should be determined by the editor. Unfortunately, when the introduction by Editor Poshek Fu contains a few errors and information that does not coincide with other authors this could be construed as an inauspicious foreshadow of things to come. He makes a couple of minutia type errors like stating the founding of Tianyi is 1925 as opposed to the other authors information and the Shaw Brothers website of 1924 (he also translate Tianyi as Number One instead of the authors translation of Unique). He also makes more egregious mistakes like dating Five Fingers of Death at 1965 (it was 1972) and stating on Cheng Pei-pei "After a long retirement from acting, she recently returned to the screen with the role of Jade Fox in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." He makes it seem that she just recently came back to acting after a long retirement, when in fact (and even mentioned in her essay) that she came back in Painted Faces (1988) and even had over 10 acting appearances between that film and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Fortunately this is not indicative of the majority of the material.
There are several fascinating chapters on the Shaws Cantonese cinema, their musicals, their wenyi (loosely known as melodrama) films and their malay films - most of which are not on DVD. These discuss the importance of the dialect cinema, the Shaws rival company MP & GI and the history of The Shaw Brothers - how they thought global and acted locally. There is so much useful information on the earlier period of the Shaw Brothers, though there remains much to be learned from the unreleased films. Then there are two chapters that mostly focus on a specific film: one on Hong Kong Nocturne (1967) and Love Eterne (1963) - I will probably find these more worthwhile after watching those movies.
There are two out-of-place chapters with the first being "Black audiences, blaxploitation, and Kung Fu films" which has very little to discuss on the Shaw Brothers (though a nuanced look at blaxploitation) and focuses more on Golden Harvest and Bruce Lee. The second "Shaw Brothers Cinema and the Hip-Hop Imagination" which despite its title has very little to do with the titular studio except for the movie "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" and its relation to the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. Both of these could be useful in other collections, but there inclusion here seems problematic because of the exclusion of the genres that I mentioned earlier.
Luckily, the final chapter is an excellent, albeit too short essay by Hong Kong actress Cheng Pei-pei: "Reminiscences of the Life of an Actress in Shaw Brothers' Movietown" which pretty much describes the chapter. Her feelings are so positive that they are infectious, even though she talks about several suicides that happened on Movietown (Qin Jian and Li Ting) that there is darker side to this movie studio left unexplored by this book.
While not perfect, I expect many fans of the Shaw Brothers to want to add this volume to their library. Several of the chapters are worth having for reference and rereading. However, there is still an opening for an English language edition on the Shaw Brothers to be much more inclusive and cohesive. Now who is going to write it?
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